Camping in the Serengeti was an incredible experience I’m so glad I got to have. If you fancy including it in your Tanzania trip, read on for the Serengeti camping experience lowdown…
“If you need the toilet in the night, look out of your tent and check for eyes first. If the coast is clear take your torch and do it as close to the tents as possible. Do not walk up to the toilets.”
I put my bottle of water down, stared at the tour leader to see if she was joking and vowed not to drink another drop until daylight.
Apparently G Adventures were serious when they said we’d be camping in the Serengeti, but I thought we’d at least have some sort of electric fence, barrier, wires, brick walls; anything, to separate woman from beast. But no, apart from the material of my sleeping bag and the canvas on the tent to protect me I was fair game for any of the thousands of animal species that call the Serengeti home.
Camping in the Serengeti
Around 40 of us were camped at the site. It was chucking it down with rain English-summer-style when I was camping in the Serengeti, so we were all in bed for around 9pm. I lay there flinching at every sound and just waiting for what I thought was the inevitable stampede. My doxycycline-infused brain was visualising myself as Simba in the gorge – the wildebeest were on the move and the hyenas were chasing them towards my tent.
Ten minutes went by and I was still wide awake and on high alert. I could hear the girls in the other tents nervously chatting and giggling and tried to allow it to sooth me to sleep, but as soon as I heard a non-human sound my body tensed up.
“Something just brushed past our tent,” my roomie (tentie?) whispered.
Not sure if you’ve ever tried to sleep with a possible lion hearing outside your tent, but it does make nodding off a little more exciting/impossible.
“Did you hear that?” I sat bolt upright.
The lions were definitely outside
I could hear them grizzling – like when a baby makes satisfied noises, or a cat purrs for attention. I lay back down and must’ve lost myself in the sounds, the next thing I knew I was being roused for our early morning game drive.
I was alive!
What had really happened
Excited morning chats with my tour leader and group revealed that hyenas had been sniffing around all night and I hadn’t been imagining the lions either. One of my fellow campers said she’d stuck her head out the tent at around 2am and seen loads of eyes staring back at her. She recoiled and spent the next two hours about to wet herself until she gave in and tried again.
Lucky for her they’d moved on.
To celebrate our Serengeti survival we were rewarded with a dazzle (the lingo for a group) of zebras chilling out under the rising Africa sun less than 50m away.
About the Serengeti National Park
Every year, thousands of tourists and travellers come to Tanzania to enjoy a tour of the Serengeti National Park. It’s no doubt Tanzania’s most beloved tourist attraction boasting the ‘Big Five’ amongst many other iconic animals on earth, and some of the most incredible wildlife viewing.
Serengeti National Park is the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country located in the North East. Serengeti means ‘endless plains’, testament to its 30,000 sq. km.
Nothing compares to camping in the Serengeti National Park. Hearing a lion roar near your tent during the night would be an incredible experience!
Staying safe camping in the Serengeti
One of the top things to consider if you plan to camp in Serengeti is safety. I was with an organised tour group who knew what they were doing.
Accommodation in the Serengeti
Before making the exciting trip, one of the things you have to make decisions about is the Serengeti accommodation.
For a camper, there are two options to choose from; private camping and public camping. Deciding where to camp depends on your love for adventure, budget and accommodation priorities.
Whether you choose private or public camping grounds, the surreal and adventurous feelings of sleeping in one of the world’s wildernesses and the sounds of animals like lions and hyenas in the night will remain a significant part of your camping experience.
There are private camping grounds within the national park offering amenities like fences, guards, toilets, toilet paper, and fancy tents, while the public camping grounds in the middle of the park offer none of these. Opting for private camping maybe for those who prefer to conduct their drive-through and touring.
If you travel with a tour operator you might find it cheaper, and more relaxing too.
You can always book a tour operator in Arusha; there are hundreds of companies to consider. Tour operators typically drive you everywhere, spot animals, help set up and tear down camps, cook, and share priceless information about culture and animals.
They provide tents, pillows, sleeping bags, and mattress pads even better. Public camps mean more people, noise, and probably safety too.
The Serengeti also offers safari lodges as an accommodation option. It’s essential to base your accommodation choices on the season you’re visiting since the lodges can be costly during the peak seasons. Lodges are exceptionally affordable during the rainy seasons.
What to expect from camping in the Serengeti
Expect basic facilities. The toilets and showers are simple, and be sure to carry along your wet wipes, sanitiser, and toilet paper. There are toilets within every camping facility in the Serengeti, whether it’s the ‘drop-toilet’ or the ‘toilet in a tent’ kind.
If you go with a tour operator though, the food is delicious! Everyone could use a hearty meal after a long day of seeing wild animals, the sun, and bumpy roads. Our tour guide was as good at making the food as she told stories about the park. We all chipped in to help.
You might see some wildlife in or near your camp. We were staying in the wild warranty’s proximity with wild animals. Some Zebras walked through our camp during our visit too.
What to pack for camping in the Serengeti
The day is hot, and the night is cold in Serengeti, so you must pack accordingly. These are the things to load on your Serengeti camping trip.
- Khaki shirts, trousers, or shorts
- A warm jacket
- Sleeved tops
- A hat
- Safari boots
- Type G Adaptor
- Safari bag
- Toilet Paper
- Wet wipes
- Water bottle
Things to do in the Serengeti
If you’ve ever wanted to see the Big Five – elephants, buffaloes, lions, rhinos, and leopards – you should definitely take that trip to the Serengeti. The National Park is home to endless plains, which are home to rivers, wild animals, and wild tree species. Other animals you must see there include; hyenas, crocodiles, zebras, hippos, and African dogs. The park also boasts over 450 species of birds.
A safari is definitely one of those trips you should take in a lifetime!
Be sure to book a game drive through the park and enjoy all the wildlife the Serengeti has to offer. Go early to spot nocturnal animals like lions, hippos, cheetahs, and wild dogs returning to their dens/holes or going out for grazing. Enjoy some nature walks, hot air balloon safaris, swimming, observing wild animals, visiting Lake Natron, among other things, during your camping trip to the Serengeti!
Sunday 12th of June 2022
Good article but prices for the cheapest camping would be good. I am not a cheapskate but I think real camping in a tent would be a better experience. I do not want to pay $200 a night for a lodge
Monday 14th of March 2022
I went to the Serengeti this past summer and I went to the bathroom outside my tent around midnight. I was beginning to drift off again when I was suddenly woken up by sounds. LIONS! They were very nearby! I also heard baboons and hyenas but mainly lions. I have on video the growling roaring huffs. I was in a tent by myself so that did not help. It went on for over two hours. I lay there so scared the whole time. I told my group the next day and no one believed me - they were FAST asleep. I showed my guide the videos and he said to have been able to hear some of those sounds they had to have been close. They came again the next night and more of the group heard them that time. We also had a hippo walk through our camp at night and poop near out guides tent. Hyenas came around during dinnertime and even knocked down garbage cans. What a trip.
Sunday 4th of August 2013
Reminds me very much of an experience back in the early 1970s when I was camping out in the bush near Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of outback Australia. I woke up in the morning and poked my head out of the tent flap and looked straight into the eyes of a full adult buffalo that was sniffing around the tent. Eye to eye distance would have been no more than one metre. Fortunately humans are not on their breakfast menu, but the encounter was definitely up front and personal. It was more surprising than scary, so I slept in a bit longer and buffalo wandered off. Whilst on tent and animal stories, I was camped on Rottnest Island, just off the coast from Perth, the capital of Western Australia. The island has a very large population of Quokkas, a nocturnal marsupial that resembles a small wallaby (smaller relative of the kangaroo). http://www.rottnestisland.com/about/flora-fauna/quokkas . They are inquisitive food scavengers, and during the night one had found its way into my little tent and I woke up with this heavy weight on my chest. It took me a few seconds to become aware that it was my uninvited guest sitting on me. What to do? They have quite efficient claws so I figured if it was startled and panicked it would most probably destroy my tent in its efforts to escape. Not a good idea. Solution once again quite simple. Ignore it and go back to sleep. It found its way out before morning and fortunately, I had been warned, and had my food supplies in a Quokka proof container. Moral of the stories.- Don't panic, just go back to sleep. Not sure about big cats though!!!!!!!!
Monday 23rd of July 2012
This brings back memories! I was also a bit taken aback when I realised we were camping among the lions! There wasn't a chance in hell I was leaving that tent after dark!
Monday 23rd of July 2012
Same, probably would've wet myself instead...
Wednesday 11th of July 2012
This sounds amazing. Amazing in that camping in the serengeti is such an incredible experience, and amazing in how terrifying (at the time) it must have been for you. Very cool!
Wednesday 11th of July 2012
Thanks John! It was pretty cool. Wish I was there now!